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Split Infinitives

If I controlled the English language, we wouldn’t need this lesson because split infinitives should be a non-issue.

Unfortunately, self-appointed know-it-alls are still insisting the split infinitives are wrong, even though they aren’t.

So, what’s the issue?

Split Infinitives: A Problem?

An infinitive is the word “to” plus a verb.

Examples: to conspire, to write, to dance, to laugh

When you put a word, generally an adverb, in between the “to” and the verb, that’s called splitting the infinitive.

Examples: to maliciously conspire, to frantically write, to passionately dance, to awkwardly laugh

The Latin Problem

In the 1800s, scholars loved Latin. As a Latin student myself, I sometimes dream of going back to those good-old-days. But there was a problem.

Some grammarians tried apply Latin rules to English grammar, even though English isn’t Latin. Most Latin infinitives are a single word, so they can’t be split.

Those Latin loving grammarians decided that if Latin infinitives couldn’t be split, neither could English ones.

Of course, the problem is that English infinitives are constructed completely differently from Latin ones, so it doesn’t make sense to follow the same rules.

The Problem Today

Today, there is disagreement about whether or not split infinitives are acceptable. The websites that I looked at all said that split infinitives are allowed, but also said that they would hesitate to use split infinitives because some people still believe that they’re wrong.

What should you do?

If you have a split infinitive, try rewriting it. Most split infinitives don’t need to be split.

Split: Jabari decided to stealthily tiptoe to the cookie tin.

Not split: Jabari decided to tiptoe stealthily to the cookie tin.

Sometimes, though, the meaning of a split infinitive is different when you don’t split it, or the non-split version sounds awkward.

Split: I decided to quickly write the product descriptions.

Not split: I decided to write the product descriptions quickly.

Split: It feels good to really laugh.

Not split: It feels good to laugh really.

If your non-split version doesn’t work as well as your split infinitive, try to ask your client about it.

If you don’t hear back from him or her, I think you’re safe to leave it in, since it can always be edited during the revision process.

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